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Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Analysis of Degas influence on Gauguin

Gauguin was an admirer of Degas work and borrowed some of his stylistic devices in a modified form to suit his own expressive needs. Degas as a practitioner of the "modernist" currents of his own day, in opposition to the literary conceptions from Greek mythology of the Salon, wished to present the life of his own times and in a way that expressed their immediacy. Typical of this approach " A Ballet Scene from an Opera Box ".
Degas presents the scene as a "snapshot" of a moment. In the foreground is a woman with a fan, behind her the prima ballerina, behind her the other dancers. Executed in pastel (a medium that reinforces the sense of immediacy) and not a large work at 62 mm x 50 mm. Given that we are meant to view this as a performance happening now ( in reality a moment of seconds) we can be sure that unless Degas worked from a photograph (just possible) the scene would be the result of sketches drawn on the spot over some time (perhaps with models in the studio as further reference) then worked up in the studio. That is, it is a carefully composed work to express a moment in time. This sense of "snapshot" is achieved by Degas method of overlapping and cropping. The woman viewer is overlapped and cropped by the edge of the work, similarly she overlaps and crops the prima ballerina, who in turn overlaps and crops two of the dancers behind her. The two other dancers are overlapped and cropped by the top edge of the work. Not one figure is seen in their entirety a device used again and again by Degas in many of his ballet works, his paintings of jockeys and horses and women bathing, combing their hair.
When Degas began his series of individual women at their toilet this cropping device was used consistently.The women bend over or step into the bath or use a towel that partially covers their body.
In this series Degas also adds the device of  excluding the viewer. They turn their back or bend over wholly concerned with the acts they are performing. In fact Degas is quoted as saying to the writer George Moore "Until now the nude has always been represented in poses that presuppose an audience but these women of mine are honest, simple folk, involved solely and entirely in what they are doing."
Gauguin had a different idea to express, that of the enigma of Hawaiian islanders, their "otherness" in relation to "civilized" society but in many of his works the devices used by Degas are presented in a modified form. Gauguin's figures are often overlapped and cropped by each other and and even when facing outward make no psychological contact with the viewer or with each other.When Degas' figures are in groups they are psychologically bound together by common purpose. In Gauguin's paintings, groups, while overlapped and cropped in a similar manner to Degas are self contained individuals. Where Degas figures are active, dancing, washing.combing hair, Gauguin's figures do nothing.

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